The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 will be presented in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. Incidentally, this is last working day of first half of the budget session of the Parliament.
As per the provisions of Article 110, presentation of money bill is just a formality. The bill, as approved by the Lok Sabha as Money Bill, should be taken as passed after passage of 14 days, even if it does not have the time to actually deliberate on the bill.
Former Union Minister and Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot said in this oped piece, "Aadhaar is one of the most transformational initiatives in independent India" and gives UPA government. of which he was one of the bright spot, credit for that.
Nobody is contesting his claims. But that being the case, why is the Congress opposed to passage of this bill, more so when it recognises that it is one of the most transformational initiative. The main opposition party would be better advised to recall P Chidambaram's words in November 2012 as the then Finance Minister in Manmohan Singh government. He termed the proposed Direct Cash Transfer scheme to intended beneficiaries as game changer as also "pioneering and path-breaking reform”. The Congress had even coined a slogan 'Aapka paisa, aapke haath' (your money in your hands), which they thought would win them 2014 General Lok Sabha elections.
Then characteristic lethargies of UPA came in. Lofty words did not match their action and Congress suffered most humiliating defeat. Sachin Pilot is right when he says, "the UPA government pioneered the idea". But it was left to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lift that idea and take it to whole new level, something which is now troubling the Congress.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who moved this bill said: "The discussion with regard to such an institution was really started when the UPA government was in power. After all it was the Congress Party which conceived of it. They perceived it in a Bill which provided for the establishment of an authority and they gave this idea of a unique identity. What we will do with that unique identity number, the Bill did not speak of it... Learning from that experience, we have improved upon that idea and the improvement upon that idea is that the principle purpose of this Bill and the focus of this Bill is now shifted. It is because at the end of the day what are our subsidies? Subsidy is an amount which a Government gives from its own revenues to service the poor and vulnerable sections of the people."
"But the problem with the subsidy is that it can become an unquantified amount which is given to an unidentifiable section of people. It should be spent on the poor and the vulnerable. Therefore, borrowing from the UPA idea of having a unique identity we have shifted the focus and the focus is that subsidies must now be targeted. Nobody should be able to get it twice over or four times over. You should be able to identify the people who get it and those people in a targeted manner must get the benefit and we have shifted the focus and the focus is that subsidies must now be targeted. The Government and the State will save resources and these resources must further be spent for the welfare of those people who deserve it", Jaitley said.
The Unique Identity Authority under Nandan Nilekani was setup in January 2009. The UPA cabinet approved the idea of a legislation on 24 September 2010. A legislation , which was the legislation to deal with unique identity, was introduced in the Parliament on 3 December 2010. Since then the issue has been debated at various forums.
The Congress leaders are citing several technical reasons as to why this bill has been rushed through in closing days of first half of the budget session. Their objection is basically four-fold — first, why was this brought as money bill; second, by listing it as money bill the Government wants to bypass role of Rajya Sabha; third, why has this not been referred to the Standing Committee (that's clearly a delaying tactic); four, privacy issues.
The Congress leaders are right when they say that this bill has been categorised as money bill to bypass Rajya Sabha where several bills like land acquisition and GST as passed by Lok Sabha have been forced into a deep freezer by the party. The bill was sure to be stuck in Rajya Sabha and the ruling BJP found a way out.
More so, the Congress record of listing ordinary bills as money bills to suit their convenience is quite eloquent. It listed Juvenile Justice Bill in 1986 as a Money Bill, the South African Bank was passed as a Money Bill, the Workmen’s Injury Compensation was passed as a Money Bill and the list goes on.
There was an interesting exchange between Congress parliamentary party leader Mallikarjuna Khadge and Arun Jaitley. When the Congress leader intervened to say that there will be no voting in Rajya Sabha, it will come back to Lok Sabha as it is, the Finance Minister responded: "I did not make the Constitution. Those who made the Constitution provided for Article 110, who has a right to vote, who does not have a right to vote."
The privacy issue of Aadhaar is being deliberated by the Supreme Court. This issue was always there since the time Aadhaar process began. Some safeguards, have in fact, 'Secrecy and confidentiality of information' have been introduced in Chapter VI of the bill. Possession of Aadhaar card does not guarantee India's citizenship.
However, laboured efforts Congress may make that its objections to bill are technical and substantive, the fact remains that its objections are only political in nature. The party realises that if the targeted subsidy for LPG, kerosene, monthly ration, MANREGA, old age pension, student scholarships, unemployment allowances, ex-gratia payments, insurance of various kinds and so on would get directly transmitted to individuals accounts and in full, Modi government would earn enough goodwill to go confidently in 2019 elections.
Currently the Centre transfers the money to state, the state transfers it to district magistrates, in turn in goes to Panchayats and to local babus for disbursement — loopholes on all steps. The middlemen would now be out of business and an individual would no longer be at the mercy of local contractor, babus and sarpanchs. If implemented in time, Modi can even boast it as his unique achievement and claim credit to the slogan which once was of Congress — aapka paisa apke haath.
Official statistics say that 99 crore people already have an Aadhaar Enrollment, 97 percent of adults in India have an Aadhaar card but the number of children is a little less, about 67 percent. Four States, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Puducherry and Delhi have had some pilot schemes with regard to the PDS. Total saving of these four States has so far been Rs 2,346 crore. CPM government in Tripura has plugged leakages by linking direct cash benefit with Aadhaar.
Modi government strategists are taking it as their recipe for success in future. The BJP has changed its position on Aadhaar but Modi adopted it as his baby soon after he came to power, perhaps because he saw it's potential benefits.
What is most interesting that some of those who had been closely associated with Sonia Gandhi's National Advisory Council during UPA days have come out strongly against Aadhaar being pitched as money bill. No one, not even political old timers recall when there was opposition to a bill to be categorised as Money Bill. Aadhaar has changed the game.